A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
—From T.S. Eliot’s “The Wastelands”
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
We last left Jake snuggling up with the key from the vacant lot, and thinking, “Tell him to grab the key. The key makes the voices go.”
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 1
Back with Ro and the gang again. Eddie awakens hearing the same message as Jake, about the key. Ro, Eddie and Susannah have been traveling southeast along the Beam and have stopped for the night. Eddie understands what the dream is telling him. He pulls out the key he’s been carving from the piece of ash, even though it isn’t finished, and takes it to Roland. As soon as Roland takes the key, he is overcome with emotion because the voices have disappeared.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is really losing his grip. He doesn’t notice anyone’s coming until Eddie’s about four steps behind his unprotected back. Eddie notes that Roland was more alert even when they were on the beach and Ro was half dead with infection. Roland thinks he’s getting ready to die, and all he hopes for at the end is silence.
Both Roland and Susannah are interested in seeing what Eddie’s been working on, even though Eddie’s uncomfortable showing it. “By the gods, Eddie, it’s beautiful!” Roland says. Eddie tells Roland to take the key, but he doesn’t want to tell Roland it was “Roland’s boy” who told him to do it—even though he realizes it’s Jake.
Eddie’s hearing voices of his own—Henry’s, still making fun of his wood-carving. Henry is the voice of Eddie’s own self-doubts.
Roland’s reaction as he takes the key and the voices subside is beautiful. “He looked back at them, and Eddie saw something he had never expected to see in his life—not even if that life stretched over a thousand years. Roland of Gilead was weeping. Awww….
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 2
Roland slept “soundlessly and dreamlessly” for the first time in months, clutching the key in his hand.
What Constant Reader Learns: Love how this mimics the position Jake is sleeping in as well.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 3
“In another world, but beneath the shadow of the same ka-tet,” Jake dreams he’s walking through a forest. He finds a path, and a stone marker whose letters are so eroded he can’t read them unless he closes his eyes and traces them with his finger. They read: TRAVELLER, BEYOND LIES MID-WORLD. “Mid-World,” he thinks in his dream. “Of course. St. Louis and Topeka and Oz and the World’s Fair and Charlie the Choo-Choo.”
Jake continues to talk, and finds a clearing covered in old, cracked asphalt and a basketball court. A boy stands at the end of the court, shooting baskets through a net attached to something that looks like an old subway kiosk painted yellow and black. From it, Jake can hear the steady rumble of machinery. “Don’t step on the robots,” the boy tells him, and he looks down at the mechanical robots that Ro and Eddie had come across earlier. The boy’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Never a Dull Moment in Mid-World.”
When Jake asks where they are, the boy tells him it’s the Portal of the Bear…also Brooklyn. The boy says he’s there to guide Jake: “I’ll show you what you need to see, but you have to be careful because I won’t know you. And strangers make Henry nervous.” Then the boy starts to fade, telling Jake to take the subway to Co-Op City and be there about 3 in the afternoon. The last thing the boy tells him is that “The answer is a river.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So in his dream, Jake is visiting the forest where Roland and his merry band are traveling, and the boy who’s going to be Jake’s guide is Eddie. A younger version of Eddie? They seem to be linked through their dreams, which is pretty cool.
Jake is upset at the sound of the machinery at the bear portal, and knows it’s somehow tied to the rose.
Not being familiar with the NYC area, I looked up Co-Op City, and found it’s a section of the Bronx and is one of the largest co-op housing developments in the world, with more than 15,000 units. No idea what its relevance is to our story, though.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 4
Jake awakens thinking about Aaron Deepneau (deep-know!) from the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind, and knows the answer to the riddle he’d asked him: a river. But he also remembers Aaron saying that was only half the answer. Jake looks at his clock, and it’s six-twenty a.m. He needs to get moving.
In the dream, Jake had fallen in the forest and scraped his knees. He’s not surprised to see, when he climbs out of bed, that he has fresh scrapes on his knees.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake doesn’t quite know where he’s going, only that he probably won’t be back: “There would be no school for him today; Jake thought that maybe, as far as he was concerned, school had been cancelled forever.”
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 5
Jake digs in his closet and pulls out his old “packsack” he’d worn to grammar school—he’d abandoned it when he enrolled in Piper because Piper kids were too cool to carry backpacks. Into it, he stuffs some clothing, the riddle book, and Charlie the Choo-Choo. He looks around to see what else he needs, and then he knows.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that Jake is convinced enough he isn’t coming back that he’s packing clothes. And what else is it he needs?
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 6
Now, Jake is in his dad’s study, which “smells of cigarettes and ambition.” It looks like an office belonging to the head of network programming, with a wall of TV monitors showing the rival networks. Jake unlocks the desk and pulls out his father’s .44 Ruger. He checks the clip to make sure it’s fully loaded, and puts gun and clip into his pack. He also takes a box of .44 slugs. As he’s getting ready to leave, he sees his dad’s Ray-Ban sunglasses and some stationery. He takes the stationery and struggles for a few minutes trying to think of what to say in a note. He feels pretty sure he’s never coming back, and he wants his parents to miss him even though he isn’t sure he’ll miss them. Finally, he writes: “Please take care of yourselves. Love, J.”
As he leaves the building, he turns left and begins moving southeast, “along the path of the Beam, resuming his own interrupted quest for the Dark Tower.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake’s nervous being in his dad’s study—he knows Elmer Chambers will be angry if he comes in (light sleeper and early riser that he is) and finds his son rifling through his desk. Nice tension through this scene as boards creak in the apartment and increase Jake’s anxiety.
As soon as he leaves the building, Jake’s mood lifts and he gets excited. “There was a highway ahead—a hidden highway leading deep into some unknown land. ..If I stand, if I can be true, I’ll see the rose…and I’ll see him, too.”
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 7
Back with our trio, and two days later, they come across an overgrown road, with wide-enough wheel ruts that Susannah’s able to get back into her wheelchair (and Eddie, who’s having to haul the wheelchair around while Ro carries Susannah, has really come to hate the chair). Roland’s wearing the key around his neck on a piece of rawhide.
Roland tells them the path was once a coach-road, and probably a big one to have survived so long—maybe even ”the Great Road."
The three stop for lunch—dried meat wrapped in olive-colored leaves that taste a little like spinach. Eddie calls them “gunslinger burritos.”
Roland gives the key back to Eddie—he wants him to finish the carving. Eddie starts to make excuses, saying he thought Roland needed it all the time, but with a single look, Roland lets him know that isn’t true. Eddie admits he’s afraid to try and finish it because he knows it’s important somehow, and he’s afraid he’ll screw it up. He finally agrees to try—he knows it has to be done.
As long as they’re discussing Eddie’s insecurities, Susannah also asks about his dreams. Eddie’s reluctant to talk about them, but finally does. He remembers an episode from his childhood, where he was shooting hoops at the old Markey Avenue playground and wanting Henry to take him to an abandoned, haunted house called The Mansion—he’d thought about it when they came across the bear portal machine. Then he remembers a kid coming up to talk to him. Roland asks if the boy was really there on the day Henry and Eddie were shooting hopes or if he’s only in the dream, and Eddie thinks the kid was really there—a kid carrying a backpack, with sunglasses too big for his face.
“Who was this person?” Roland asks, and finally Eddie tells him it was Jake. “He’s sharing my dreams, and I’m sharing his,” he says. “The kid is trying to come back here. And if the key isn’t done when he makes his move—or if it’s done wrong—he’s probably going to die.”
What Constant Reader Learns: An animal crawls out of the forest and stares at them. Roland calls it a billy-bumbler, which sounds like a character out of Lord of the Rings, and it’s described as a cross between a badger and a raccoon, with a closely coiled tail and gold-rimmed eyes. We’re getting such a detailed description of this animal that I assume the billy-bumbler is not a one-off mention and we’ll see one again. But for now, this one looks at them briefly, then wanders back into the woods. And apparently they taste worse than dog, so they aren’t going to be a food supply.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the depth of Eddie’s self-doubt and poor self-esteem. Henry really did a number on him, apparently encouraged by their mom. Roland’s still got some work to do with him.
Love that Eddie’s aware he and Jake are sharing dreams, only he knows something Jake doesn’t. Roland says maybe Jake has a key of his own. “Is that possible?” Eddie replies: “Yeah, I think it is, but it isn’t enough. And I don’t think he knows that.”
Uh-oh. Trouble for Jake incoming.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 8
Roland, Eddie, and Susannah set off again, traveling along the road. Eddie looks back at one point and sees their former campsite in the distance and marvels at how far they’ve come. Roland spots something off to the side, and they all go to look—it’s a tall gray stone covered in vines. Roland cuts away the vines and it reads (surprise) TRAVELLER, BEYOND LIES MID-WORLD.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh, well, Mid-World signs used British spellings since “traveler” has one “L” in American English. And the parallel paths with Jake continue.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 9
Roland says the sign means that they’re “nearing the end of this first stage.” He thinks the woods will end soon and he “expects a great change.”
Eddie (thank you) asks what Mid-World is. “One of the large kingdoms that dominated the earth in the times before these,” Roland says. “A kingdom of hope and knowledge and light—the sort of things we were trying to hold onto in my land before the darkness overtook us.”
According to legend, a great city—“perhaps as great as your city of New York”—lay at the edge of Mid-World, which Roland says will be in ruins now, if it’s there at all. “But there may be people…or monsters…or both.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So, we’re nearing the end of the first stage, and, like Jake, I find myself fearfully and eagerly anticipating what lies ahead. Even monsters. We need a good monster.
That’s it for this week. Join us next week, as we tackle the beginning of “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Sections 10-20.